HAZLET — You've locked your doors and your doorbell camera is up and running, to hopefully protect your home from unwanted visitors.

But are you actually arming your security system when you go to bed? Are your outdoor lights hitting the right spots? Is your landscaping making your home more attractive to criminals?

In response to a wave of vehicle thefts and related home burglaries, police in Hazlet are going above and beyond to help residents strengthen their homes and personal property from thieves.

A new page at the Hazlet Police Department website allows residents to sign up for a free home security assessment conducted by specially-trained officers.

Residents can tell police their preferred days and times for an assessment, and police will come out to conduct a service that includes:

⚫ Discussion with homeowner about current crime trends and past security problems

⚫ Survey of exterior perimeter of site and home, including examination of site boundaries, perimeter fencing, landscaping, security lighting and signage

⚫ Survey of interior of home if necessary (completely voluntary)

⚫ Review of physical security devices, including doors, windows, safes, and lock hardware.

⚫ Review of security systems, including intrusion alarm systems, panic alarm systems, video surveillance systems and security intercom systems

⚫ Identification of likely security risks and potential threats

Officials in towns and counties across the Garden State have been urging residents to lock their vehicle doors and take their car keys inside, in order to get a handle on a spike in the number of high-end vehicle thefts.

In response to more residents following these rules, criminals are increasing their risk by entering homes in order to get their hands on keys or other valuables.

"What we found is a lot of residents don't engage their alarm systems when they're in the house at nighttime," said Hazlet Police Chief Ted Wittke.

During a pilot run of the security assessment program, officers visited about 350 homes for a security review.

"Our goal is to visit another 1,500 by year's end," Wittke said.

Something as innocent as an overgrown bush may be noticed by officers and brought up to residents. If it's near a window, Wittke said, a bad actor can hide behind it without being detected by neighbors or police.

"A lot of times we'll make recommendations to plant thorny-type bushes in front of the window, to make it more difficult for someone to access the home," Wittke said.

Over the course of just a couple years, Monmouth County has recorded more than 300 luxury car thefts. In more than 20% of those cases, suspects entered the home to find a key.

"There's not going to be one thing that cures this. It's going to be a multitude of avenues," said Monmouth County Prosecutor Raymond Santiago.

In two-thirds of the county's vehicle thefts reported in 2022, it was revealed that the vehicle owner had left the vehicle unlocked with the key inside.

On July 7, Gov. Phil Murphy toughened New Jersey's rules against auto theft by signing a number of bills into law. Under one measure, presumption of pretrial release is eliminated for accused vehicle theft offenders who had already been arrested or convicted of a motor vehicle theft offense within the prior 90 days.

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